By Larry Gordon
Everywhere we turn these days, the talk is about upcoming elections. Not about Venezuela, where Hugo Chavez—the freely elected dictator—won a resounding victory. Nor is it about elections in the first locale in which the Arab Spring was alleged to have sprung—the Palestinian Authority so-called territories. Those elections are now four years overdue.
What we have on our agenda today are two very important elections—here in the U.S. on November 6, and January 22 in Israel. You don’t need to read it here to understand that these are potentially momentous turning points in the “future history,” if you will, of both countries as well as the fashion in which the two interface.
It always struck me as somewhat odd that when the government here in the U.S. leans right, the government in Israel tends to lean left, and on occasion it is the reverse. During the last few years of the George W. Bush tenure, the prime minister in Israel was the ebullient and now frequently investigated and prosecuted Ehud Olmert. Just at about the same time as Mr. Bush exited and Barack Obama entered the Oval Office, the right-leaning Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu assumed office in Israel.
It makes one wonder what Israel would look like today if Ehud Olmert were still be prime minister after four years of the Obama administration. How much havoc could that dynamic duo of Obama and Olmert have wrought on the State of Israel?
And now it is happening again, as both Americans and Israelis end up going to the polls just a few weeks apart from one another. Here in the U.S. it is increasingly difficult to prognosticate the outcome of the November election. Governor Romney enjoyed a great bump in the polls after Mr. Obama’s listless performance at the first of their three debates in Denver.
The other night at Hofstra University, the president seemed to have returned from wherever he was during that first debate two weeks ago. Mr. Obama made somewhat of a comeback but seemed defensive, bitter, and even a little angry. Mr. Romney did not seem as smooth or as comfortable as he appeared to be at that first debate. But he made some excellent points and caught the president in a colossal deception on the Libya issue. It remains to be seen how that plays out over the next few days leading to the foreign policy debate scheduled for Monday night in Florida.
In Israel it appears that former Shas honcho Aryeh Deri is about to make a comeback of his own. Instead of having Deri spin off a new version of a political party that would siphon off Knesset seats from Shas, it looks like a decision was made by Rabbi Ovadya Yosef to have Deri share leadership with current party leader Eli Yishai, with Yishai in the number one slot and Deri in number two. Reportedly, neither will be party chairman, and Yishai will be eligible for appointment as the party’s senior minister.
There will be news emanating daily from Israel on the election there, where the electoral system differs significantly from ours here in the U.S. New political parties are coming at us from every direction. One is led by broadcast journalist Yair Lapid, whose Yesh Atid party will probably render the Kadima party obsolete. Lapid, the son of the late political strongman Tommy Lapid, has picked up a great deal of national support in Israel. On the surface, he seems to have adopted policies hostile to the religious community in Israel, but supporters of his from within the dati community say that is not the case.
Their critics insist that those Orthodox community personalities are selling out their values and ideals so that they are able to hobnob in the halls of power. Mr. Lapid stands for many controversial things. However, it seems that despite all the issues that ail Israeli society, Mr. Lapid is only able to focus his attention—or shall we say “pin the tail”—on the so-called ultra-Orthodox or chareidi community. He says that the study halls of the kollelim need to be defunded and that chareidim must do army service or some other form of national service. He adds that the special status assigned to the Torah community in Israel since the founding of the modern State of Israel in 1948 has to be reviewed and revised. And he may attract as many as 12 seats in the next Knesset, making him a power that would need to be seriously reckoned with.
On the prime ministerial front, at this stage it seems that Mr. Netanyahu has an excellent grasp on the situation with the eventual result that his Likud party will be the dominating party in the Knesset. The talk of Ehud Olmert returning to lead a super left-of-center coalition is dreamy and unlikely. Olmert still faces serious fraud charges related to the Holyland real-estate fiasco where millions of dollars in bribes changed hands with Olmert charged as being in the vortex of all the monetary movements.
The next few weeks, beginning with our elections here in the U.S. and then culminating with the January elections in Israel, will most likely redefine the direction of the world we live in over the next decade and beyond. That these are urgent and exciting times for all is an understatement.
U.S. Says Settlement Building Is Illegal?
The United States’ UN Ambassador, Susan Rice, reiterated on Monday that the policy of the Obama administration continues to be that it “does not accept the legitimacy of Israeli settlement activity, and will continue to oppose any efforts to legalize outposts.”
That’s a fair, carefully crafted statement that in this diplomatic day and age needs to be carefully dissected. You will have to take note that the ambassador did not say that she questions the legitimacy of existing settlement communities. She said that the position of the U.S. today is that it is opposed to settlement “activity.”
So here we have it before our very disbelieving eyes—a pro-Israel statement constructed and couched in terms that on the surface seem patently critical of the Jewish state. But it is not. Or is it? The answer might be yes and no.
Ambassador Rice made several other similar statements Monday at the Security Council’s open debate on the Middle East. On the recent destruction of Palestinian olive groves, the ambassador said that this type of activity is “deplorable,” and it is. But she didn’t say or even allude to the possibility that the destruction was wrought by Jewish activists. Video has been produced that shows Palestinians destroying their own olive groves in an effort to frame Israel. “We look to Israeli authorities to act decisively to protect these resources and investigate such acts.” That means, I suppose, that she supports arresting and prosecuting the perpetrators, whoever they are.
Then she said that the U.S. “supports the creation of a Palestinian state as part of a two-state solution resulting from direct negotiations, without preconditions between the Israelis and Palestinians.” So does Prime Minister Netanyahu.
“Without preconditions” means that at this juncture the Palestinian position that negotiations be predicated on the cessation of settlement-building, as the Palestinians have been insisting, is not supported by the U.S.
It’s an interesting analysis. Now we just have to figure out the difference between settlement “building” and “activity.”
Comments for Larry Gordon are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.